Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek


Some facts are inconvenient.

Some, though, turn out to be more annoying than getting a pedicure from a large hirsute drunk in a Motorhead t-shirt spouting invective about sci-fi movies.

This may be one of those.

You know those people at work who constantly network and send mountains of emails?

Yes, the sucky-uppy-I'm-so-ambitious-and-conscientious sorts.

They succeed. Quite often.

This sorrowful idea came to me originally from a tweet that read: "Work email can reveal a lot about employees. For example, people who send more messages are often higher performers."

And so it was that I gravitated to the words of Microsoft's director of research and strategy for organizational productivity analytics -- a job that anyone with a sense of humor would surely crave -- Chantrelle Nielsen.

Writing in the Harvard Business Review, she offers a picture of success that some might find a touch disheartening.

Apparently, the highest performers are often those who, indeed, flood your inbox with their egos. I mean, their extremely fine ideas and efficient approach to business.

Nielsen writes: "The highest performers had 36% larger 'strong ties' internal networks (ones that connect at least biweekly in small-group messages) than average performers, while the low performers had 6% smaller networks than average."

If you're not already depressed, please prepare for worse.

"The size and strength of peoples' networks actually helped to predict year-over-year changes in performance better than managers could," Nielsen writes.

Well, managers at Microsoft have a reputation of emphasizing the micro and being a little soft on the actual judgment.

Can it be, though, that (overly) keen online enthusiasm is a signpost to a successful career?

Prepare to sulk at the state of modern humanity, for Nielsen says: "Being intensely engaged in online collaboration seemed to independently drive employee performance."

Nielsen says that this pattern has been observed in different types of businesses.

She even offers a sentence that immediately gave me a profound indigestion -- the sort that actually kept me from my sauvignon blanc.

It goes like this: "Predictive sales performance models that used social graph data (in the form of the structure of peoples' networks) often showed that internal connections mattered even more than external connections did."

Can it be that the web and its Swiss Guard known as software have not merely permeated business life but actually dictated behavior within it? Can it be that those who play by the (digital) system are those who win?

It's easy to believe, isn't it?

Businesses are social structures that work on the basis of hierarchy (except at Zappos, of course), patronage and subjective, sometimes convoluted decision-making.

Perhaps all those emails and that vast network are just simple ways to market yourself to those who might, just might, make a decision in your favor at some point.

Perhaps it's not unlike aspirant actors who do all they can to ensure that casting directors, producers and bar owners know who they are, where they are and what they're doing at all times.

I wanted a bone, though. Not one of contention, merely one of hope.

Nielsen tossed me one, as if she already knew that, with my paltry six friends and ten emails a day, I was only worth feeling sorry for.

"Given the same number of connections, some networks are more effective than others if they include highly influential people," she wrote.

I can feel you wiping the sweat from your brow and the coffee from your chin.

It could, after all, be that just managing ever upwards in a suitably unctuous way will enhance your prospects, just as it always did.

Thank goodness. It was as if the social order was being completely destroyed.

However, in a world in which vast amounts of data aren't only being created, but also being analyzed by people who bathe in, well, organizational productivity analytics, the way employees aren't only motivated, but judged will take on interesting hues.

Please excuse me. I must go. I must write an email to someone powerful and famous.

I can only hope she replies.